Zoo Miami – Where The Wild Things Are

Lions, Tigers and Bears…Oh my!

There is no shortage of animal encounters in Florida.  You can visit aquariums, zoos and even close encounters like swimming with dolphins.  We chose to check out one of the largest zoos in the state with some friends on a recent day off of school.  Zoo Miami here we come!

A little pre-trip research and we found a $4 off coupon for everyone in our party if we bought tickets online.  Score.  They simply scanned our smartphones when we got to the gate.  The zoo is on over 740 acres and has over 3000 animals scattered around a 3 mile trail snaking through the park.  Add little legs to the equation and it could be a recipe for a meltdown.  Luckily the zoo has strollers to rent and our vehicle of choice for the day, a safari cycle – a bicycle with seating for up to 6 adults with a cover to shield the sun and/or rain.

Please excuse our drenched look.  More on that later.

The safari cycle was a great way to cover serious ground while touring the zoo and bonus…an excellent leg workout for the moms.  Thankfully Florida is not as hilly as our home state of NC but, we still had to grunt to get things moving at times.  Think Wilma and Betty Flintstone with 3 crazy kids in tow.

The zoo is organized in somewhat of a loop with a monorail that snakes the perimeter.  If you can’t take the heat, there’s always AC in the monorail and someone with a microphone.  It sounds like a great place to catch an afternoon nap if you need a break (there is a small extra fee).

The animals are grouped in habitats and by contents so you can imagine how each species fits into the world around them.  One unique feature about this zoo is that most of the animals are very close and you are only separated by a moat and a low fence.  It’s great for the kids because they don’t have to peer through bars to catch a glimpse.

Hello there Asian elephant!

The animals come in the more interesting, the Komodo Dragon, the fastest lizard in the world.  Did you know that they can eat wild boar and deer?!

Not as sluggish as he looks
To the more common, the wild squirrel.  There are many running around the zoo that attract just as much attention as the lions.  They aren’t afraid to come up and greet you if you have food.  
The zoo doesn’t really allow outside food and drinks other than water but, you can bring in coolers and leave them at the front gate to enjoy outside of the park by the picnic tables.  We packed a lunch but, then quickly realized that the front gate is miles from where kids get hungry so we jumped to plan B – buy food in the park.  We did see people bring in snacks discretely and we were envious that we didn’t do the same.  You would think there would be more snack options along the 3 mile trek but, they only have a few and they are only open on the weekends.  We ate at the Oasis Grill, at the half-way point.  The kids enjoyed meals with quesadillas, animal crackers and applesauce and the moms wished they had ordered kids meals.  Nothing special here but, they do serve beer if you need an afternoon beverage.  
Next door is the splash park, a big hit with our crowd.  We wore bathing suits under our clothes and enjoyed the break from the heat.  They have the usual water features but, a portion is in the shade and they have surf boards you can stand on to practice balancing while hanging ten.  Bonus, there’s a place for parents to sit if you aren’t into getting soaked.  

Speaking of getting soaked…pop up showers are quite common in Florida.  Come prepared or be ready to get wet.  We encountered two major rain storms which triggered side-splitting laughter in our crowd but, may not be the case if you travel with people made of sugar.  Packing a poncho may be a good idea as there aren’t many places to duck into to escape the downpours.  
Our favorite animals were the lions and the gorillas!  They have a cave-like structure that you can walk into to get up close and personal with these amazing creatures.  Of course, there’s no guarantee that they will get nose to nose with you but, we lucked out and saw a rear-end of a gorilla while he picked through his afternoon snack of leaves.  
Mr. Gorilla wasn’t ready to turn around
The zookeepers can be found in various locations around the park at certain times for feedings and informational sessions.  If you happen to catch one, it can be very informative, depending on the attention span of your guests.  We got to see the zookeeper throwing oranges to the chimpanzees!
Some chimpanzees caught the oranges mid-air with one hand.
There are other opportunities to feed giraffes, parrots and rhinos but, we weren’t able to take advantage of the extra fun.  We were on a mission to see the tigers before we left.  
If you have little ones (under 5), don’t miss the Dino Dig area, where you can unearth fossils and the Children’s Zoo area.  You can ride a camel, check out animals in the wacky barn, ride a carousel and see an animal talk in the theater. 
We decided to take this animal home.
Quick tips for busy moms:
1.  If you want to get wet, bring a bathing suit, towel and be sure to bring shoes you can get wet.  They require you to wear shoes in the splash park.  
2.  Don’t bother bringing food or packing a lunch but, hide some snacks in your bag and hope they don’t search for your Goldfish stash.  
3.  Bring a backpack or a bag so you can be hands free.  A purse would just get annoying.  
4.  Comfy walking shoes are a must for everyone.  Pack flip flops or water friendly shoes in your backpack for the splash park.
5.  Plan on at least 4 hours at the park.  It is huge and if you have a child that loves animals, you may want to linger at a few.  
6.  Consider Miami rush hour traffic when you leave.  We didn’t and had an extra hour in the car as a result.  Ideally we would have stopped for a fun dinner nearby or stayed the night.  
7.  Pack hand sanitizer.  We didn’t see it anywhere near the food stands.  The bathroom had soap but, if you need to clean up in a hurry, hand sanitizer would have done the trick.   
8.  When in Florida, don’t forget the sunscreen! 

A special thank you to my friend Ashleigh for going on this adventure with us!  

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